Here we go again.
Another community shattered by a mass shooting, and like soldiers in World War I, activists on both sides have gone over the top, grinding discussion on the issue to a stalemate. Meanwhile, the clock above the next school or community or public square is counting down, and when it hits zero, we will be back here once again.
This article is not an argument for gun rights or gun control. Instead, I am going to argue that the problem is much deeper: mass shootings are a sign of failure in our society, and we may not be able to solve the problem (it is a problem in Europe, too). It may, however, give us a better starting place to develop new and effective solutions, if we have a sober and steely-eyed determination.
I will start with the arguments made by the gun rights crowd. From what I have gathered, their argument is as follows: first, that past gun control measures enacted after mass violence have not solved the issue, and second, the spirit of the Second Amendment is based on the balancing act of having an armed citizenry, ready to resist the federal government in the event it becomes tyrannical or oppressive.
The first point is easily dismissed, given that just because a policy has not worked does not necessitate its abandonment. There may still be gun control measures that achieve desired results, and we cannot abandon that possibility.
Their second point is a bit more difficult to tackle. It is based on the theory that if the federal government has a certain level of military technology, currently the M16 and its shorter M4 variant, then the population should be able to own its rough equivalent, the AR-15 and its variants. Arguing for technological parity makes sense initially, as the people may have to resist the government and its military, and need the means to do so. To dismiss this as being too far outside the realm of possibility is to forget the mission of the Black Panthers, among other contemporary examples, where the use of civil disobedience and violence against the state was deemed necessary and legitimate. More commonly, this is expressed by gun rights advocates as “the Second Amendment backs up the First.” Until government is permanently staffed by angels, there must always be a vanguard.
However, the argument falls apart because resisting the state, if the time calls for it, does not rest on technological parity but instead on ingenuity. A prime example is the War in Iraq, where the United States had complete technological superiority over the insurgency, yet still struggled to achieve a draw. Since having access to AR-15s is not making the United States secure from tyranny, it is our determination and ingenuity that we can employ if needed.
In this same vein, gun control advocates are diagnosing symptoms; I believe their efforts to ban semi-automatic rifles will do nothing to stop mass violence. The decision to commit such an act is not an impulse, and these are actions that shooters have contemplated for some time. Without access to a rifle, they will seek another tool to commit their deed, limited only by their research and ingenuity.
I have significant doubts that mental illness is the primary driver motivating mass shooters, which is the safe and comfortable answer, as it rings true and gives us a degree of separation from these horrific acts (“oh, they were crazy, that’s why”). Instead, based on the manifestos of shooters and research done by investigators, I believe these are rational actions by individuals in their circumstances. From their own words, mass shooters feel socially isolated, disconnected, under attack, suffering from an injustice, real or perceived. They are seeking justice, revenge, to enact punishment, and have a desire to make others suffer in the ways they have.
In other words, we have failed mass shooters, and mass shooters have failed us. No one decides to be born into this world, no one deserves to feel the pain that they do; on the other hand, we cannot create a perfectly harmonized society in which there will be no individuals who have fallen through the cracks, and we do not deserve to have our communities shattered as punishment.
From the pool of marginalized Americans, some commit violence, some commit suicide, the rest suffer in relative silence. This, I believe, is the real problem, and where real solutions must begin, if we are to have any hope of stemming this form of violence. Recognizing the reality that a perfectly harmonized society is not achievable, the only conclusion is that episodes of mass violence will continue, with or without rifles.
While society may not be able to “rescue” every marginalized individual, there are ways to recognize the signs, if taken seriously. This was the failure in Parkland, where students dutifully communicated their concerns about the shooter, but the government was derelict in their duty on multiple levels. Those departments and individuals who failed to act are the ones who should be held accountable.
The arguments being made by both sides are stale and tired, occurring over a battleground on which the true nature of the problem is missed. It does not matter what clever slogan is being shouted, what protest sign is being displayed, who is writing the opinion article, or who is giving the speech—the clock is still going to tick down to zero, and the violence will occur, with or without rifles. Out of the trenches, the activists will climb again, clouding the issue, dividing the country, reinforcing the stalemate.
I believe gun control and gun rights activists are being driven by terror. To them I say: this is America, this is the price of freedom. I say the same thing to those who cry about immigrant violence—this is America, we accept them anyway, knowing the risks. Stand tall with dignity, see the true nature of the problem, innovate with determination, and stop submitting to fear.
Bryan is a member of the Class of 2018 and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org